There is a lot of good art in “Blue Black” — the new exhibition curated by artist Glenn Ligon at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 3716 Washington Blvd.

This includes Ligon’s own pieces. His “A Small Band” (2015) is social-cosmic word play in giant neon letters. As the show catalog indicates, the installation “references conceptual composer Steve Reich’s 1966 sound piece ‘Come Out,’ commissioned by civil rights activist Truman Nelson.”

That piece quoted a young Harlem man, Daniel Hamm, who was wrongfully convicted in 1964 and physically abused in custody. “I had to open the bruise up,” Hamm said of proving his injuries, “and let some of the blue . . . the blood come out to show them.”

Such word mixing is woven into the title of the overall exhibition.

While there is a formal aspect — most of the included art is blue and/or black in terms of color — these words also have social definitions and connotations.

Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled (policemen)” (2015), shown above, depicts an African-American police officer painted in a nearly monochromatic blue/black color scheme. The painting obviously raises the co-existence of the African-American community and the police. There are, of course, many black police officers. But racism was also woven into the institutional DNA of U.S. police departments when they were initially formed in the 19th century.

There are dozens of other compelling works — from Susan Rothenberg, Carrie Mae Weems, Chris Ofili (whose “Virgin Mary” was famously targeted by New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani), Philip Guston, Kara Walker, Joan Miró, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Derek Jarmon’s final film, “Blue” (1993) is also included. Jarmon had been partially blinded by AIDS-related illnesses. Referencing that blindness, the film shows a blue field as narrators talk about Jarmon’s life and coming death.

The exhibition sometimes falters when its expansive logic is reduced to more formal ground. What is compelling about Jarmon, Ligon and Marshall is their presentation of social and human concerns: the blindness of a filmmaker dying of AIDS; the collision of racism and black creative genius; the contradictions of being a black policeman.

And, to be honest, these are more compelling stories than Ellsworth Kelly’s “singular exploration of abstract painting” that defies “stylistic categorization” in his painting “Blue Black” (2000). At the same time, it was Kelly’s painting, Ligon writes, that inspired his idea for this exhibition. Perhaps that is why the show feels like two (or more) exhibitions that are sometimes wrestling with each other.

“Blue Black” is most interesting when narrative escapes the formal – focusing on what art does best – presenting the icons, and indexical record, of human performances and stories. The contradictions of “Blue Black” question what the future of art might be — formal or social, outside of time, or returned to its existential origins?

“Blue Black” will be shown until Oct. 7 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 3716 Washington Blvd.

Reigning Men

I didn’t want to like “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715-2015.” I really didn’t.

When I first heard that the Saint Louis Art Museum was doing its third fashion related show in a year I imagined it was an abrogation of curatorial responsibility – perhaps a way to avoid the tough questions facing art in the era of Trump. It occurred to me if the museum was having trouble coming up with exhibition ideas there are dozens of amazing and talented artists in St. Louis worthy of their institutional attention.

But, alas, the show is pretty good, rightly taking an anthropological and social approach to the art that we wear (fashion) rather than a formal or abstractly historicist one — from the san culottes of the French Revolution to the Zoot Suit (of Zoot Suit Riots fame) to work uniforms. The punned title is, therefore, something of a misnomer. While there is plenty of haute couture (possibly too much) the show also includes the innovative clothing of the hoi polloi.

It is unclear if the exhibit’s goal of re-examining the idea of fashion with femininity is totally successful. To capture the fluidity of gender, in actuality, might require a show that was not so gender specific — dealing with clothing gestures performed by both “male” and “female” identifying bodies. Regardless, the exhibit’s artifacts, largely from the Los Angeles County Museum, are pretty interesting, sometimes beautiful, and informative.

But I still hope the St. Louis Art Museum takes a break from fashion for its next major show.

“Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715-2015” runs at the St. Louis Art Museum through Sept. 17.

Grease 3

Those who follow the St. Louis art “scene” were disheartened in late 2016 with the closure of a number of independent art spaces; spaces that oriented toward local and emerging artists. While the loss of White Flag and Fort Gondo were blows, time keeps moving forward, and new spaces are opening up.

One of these is “Grease 3,” named after a would-be third installment of the musical/film franchise. Organized by artists Brittany Boynton, Julie Rechtien and Conor Murphy, this do-it-yourself space, located at 3214 Cherokee Street, provides a shop for handmade artifacts in front, and a “professional” white cube in back.

Their July show featured Katie Winchester, a.k.a. “VHS Girl,” a brilliant artist from Southern Illinois who adapts paintings from the covers of old VHS tapes. Their August show, opening on Friday, Aug. 11, features Nick Schleicher’s “skin paintings.”

Grease 3’s gallerists take a populist view to their exhibitions, pricing work affordably and trying to engage a wide swath of interests. Grease 3 is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 4 p.m.